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Adler

Jane Eyre has returned to London from serving as a nurse during the Boer War. She finds herself staying with a woman named Irene Adler: an American adventuring actress and opera singer. Irene is awaiting a delivery of papers from Marie Curie in Paris. However, Ayesha, Queen of the Amazons, is doing everything in her power to intercept those papers. She loathes the British Empire for destroying her home and will do anything to get even. Those papers turn out to be plans for a radiation bomb. Can Jane, Irene, and their friends keep the papers safe, and if not, can they save the world?

This is a steampunk mystery that’s reminiscent of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, just with all female leads 😉 The cast is comprised mostly of Victorian era characters. I only caught the big ones, but fans of that literature will likely find more Easter eggs. Irene and Jane’s relationship reminded me a bit of Sherlock and Watson’s relationship on the 2010 Sherlock show, which I’m sure was intentional.

In the vein of capturing the Victorian spirit, both story and art were action-oriented yet atmospheric. A muted sepia-toned palette makes you feel like you’re reading a document from the time. The characters were drawn well, everyone having a unique touch to their clothing, but their poses felt a bit stiff for me during the action sequences.

Overall: A female character led mystery, adventure, with very little romance, set in Victorian London = perfect beach reading material!

– Kathleen

Tidhar, Lavie, and Paul McCaffrey. Adler. 2021.

Heartstopper (Vol. 2)

Charlie’s dad picks him up from the fated party where he kisses Nick, leaving the rugby player awfully confused. After a stressful and sleepless night, Nick shows up to Charlie’s house the next day. They agree they like each other romantically, and want to keep seeing each other, but Nick wants to keep it a secret for now. He needs more time to figure himself out. Over the next few weeks, they carry on as usual, just with secret kissing breaks. They go out with Charlie’s friends for his birthday, and with Nick’s friends to the movies. For the most part, both friend groups accept the other boy – but inevitably, someone makes a “joke” that goes too far, and Nick is in a fragile space. How much strain will this put on their budding relationship?

I think the strongest part of this series is how much time it takes to explore the main character’s feelings. This is important for young men especially! So they know it’s okay to have feelings and express them in appropriate and healthy ways! While Volume 1 focused on Charlie, there is a shift to Nick here in Volume 2. We see him struggling to come to terms with himself and give himself a label with Charlie’s help, and it feels to me that Charlie gives kind and appropriate advice. Though I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this subject matter, everything surrounding it felt presented in a genuine, appropriate, and kind and caring manner.

Lightening some of the heavy load of this volume was the artwork. It was just as cute as the first volume, but not overly so. Though there’s no color, the character expressions are particularly adept at setting just the right mood and tone of a scene. There are some “manga-esque” elements at points such as speech bubbles with only hearts in them, and bokeh-esque backgrounds, but used sparingly at very important points of the story.

Looking forward to the next volume!

-Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 2). 2019.

The Montague Twins (Vol. 1): The Witch’s Hand

Alistair and Peter Montague are orphaned twin brothers who love to solve mysteries. They’re living with David, a professor, his wife Sandy, and their daughter Charlie, who is just as into mysteries as the boys are. One summer day, David insists they take a day off to have some good, clean fun. They take turns deciding what to do, and end up at the beach. It’s there that they see an anomaly in the sky above the lighthouse – that turns out to be the doing of a witch. David, Sandy, and David’s assistant Rowan then tell the boys that they have magic and must use it to solve the mystery. Being magic users themselves, David instructs Rowan to teach the teens magic as both a practical teaching exercise and to study the boys. Who is the mysterious witch? What does she want? Can the teenagers gain enough control over their power to find out?

I’m striking out lately! I don’t have the patience for mysteries, it seems. I feel Nancy would like this one much better than I did. It’s very much reminiscent of the 50’s era Hardy Boys, but with touches of modernity and the paranormal: the focus is on the mystery much more than anything else. Still, the characters have their unique and modern struggles. It’s interesting to see these issues through the lens of time.

The art also evokes old mystery illustrations and cartoon shows such as Scooby Doo. The figures are very geometric, with sharp angles. The color palette is dark and mysterious, but also has a pastel or sepia quality to it. It feels like you’re reading an older book even with the modern elements in the story.

Overall, this mystery is sure to please teens and adults who like paranormal elements in their mysteries (emphasizing the mystery bit) and those who like The Hardy Boys.

-Kathleen

Page, Nathan, & Drew Shannon. The Montague Twins (Vol. 1): The Witch’s Hand. 2020.

The Witcher (Vol. 2): Fox Children

Geralt and his traveling companion – the dwarf Addario Bach – embark upon a ship bound for Novigrad in exchange for their services. The crew is on a rescue mission and they need protection. They are looking to recover the elf girl Xymenna, daughter of fur tannery heiress Briana de Sepulveda, who was kidnapped by a vulpess. Geralt instantly claims they are mad: a vulpess is a rare creature, but deadly in that she fights with illusions and deception. The crew and the Witcher bicker as the ship steers ever more slowly into the swamp and eventually loses its’ way. Now they must band together to decide what’s real if they are to make it to their destination alive.

I’ve been reading the Witcher novels, which prompted me to pick the graphic novel series back up. The thing I enjoy most about this universe are the very gray areas in which it operates. There is no truly good character or creature, nor truly evil character or creature. The art reflects that with blocky figures and backgrounds and stark shading, creating an ominous atmosphere which forces you to guess character’s intentions. It was a fast, quick read (unlike the novels in my experience, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) that would be good for the beach 😉 Looking forward to more!

– Kathleen

Tobin, Paul, and Joe Querio. The Witcher (Vol. 2): Fox Children. 2015.

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy

This slim graphic novel presents the start of the Walt Disney Company’s story. Together with Ub Iwerks, brothers Walt and Roy Disney start their own animation studio in 1928. Walt is the face of the company and the creative force; Ub is the main artist and animator; and Roy handles the business and financial aspects. We see the little studio grow and push the boundaries of animation – first adding sound, then color, then a full feature-length animated film called Snow White in 1937. We see the animation studio grow into a media conglomerate and a theme park revolutionary. We also see the Disney brothers and Iwerks grow together, then apart, then together again to create something the likes of which the world had never seen.

For everything it tried to accomplish – present Walt in a neutral light, track the founding and building of the company – it fell short in every case, because it was too short. Disney history, especially that of the man Walt himself, is fascinatingly convoluted and I felt there was a lot of context missing from it as a result of the short length. It felt from the art style and writing that this was supposed to be for middle-grade or YA readers. In that regard, I can appreciate the effort; as an adult reader, I found too much lacking for it to be particularly educational or enjoyable. It really needed to be the length of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics (208 pages to Disney Bros’ 112) for it to be effective from a narrative standpoint.

It was more effective in its presentation. There were chapter breaks in order to give young minds (and older ones) a breather 😉 The colors were bright, cheerful, and very Disney-fied. Though it was hard to distinguish individual characters from one another, the figures were drawn in a visually pleasing manner: short, lean bodies with big heads and bulbous noses, recalling cartoon strips popular at the time.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped, middle grade and YA readers will get an abbreviated look at how the Disney company started. The “Further Reading” section at the back will allow them to further satiate their curiosity.

– Kathleen

Nikolavitch, Alex, and Felix Ruiz. The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy. 2020.

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

K. Woodman-Maynard presents a graphic novel adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In the 1920’s, a young man named Nick Carraway leaves his home in the Midwest for New York City. There, between shifts working in bonds, Nick befriends his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He’s fabulously wealthy, and mysterious too. He’s hoping to reignite his relationship with an old flame: Nick’s cousin Daisy. Only problem is, Daisy is married to polo athlete Tom, who has a flame of his own on the side. Nick, as both an active and unwilling participant to both affairs (including his own with golfer Jordan Baker), serves as our narrator during this ill-fated summer.
 
Gatsby is one of the few books that I was forced to read for school that I go back to of my own volition. The exposition and dialogue seemed lifted straight from the book to me, and this was mostly true. Woodman-Maynard explains in an author’s note at the end of the book that some wording was changed to either make more sense within the context of the graphic novel, or to make more sense to modern audiences. The text placement was odd at times. It tried to sit in the environments, and sometimes does to great effect, but at other times it’s just confusing to figure out where to read next.
 
Watercolor illustrations evoking magazine advertisements from the decade make up the art for this book. It is, for the most part, extraordinarily effective. The reader is fully immersed in the empty, meaningless decadence of the Roaring ’20s. The colors were bright, and the palette varied from page to page. Often, one sequence or a few pages would be in one monochromatic palette, and the next few would be in a different palette: for example, blue and yellow to pink and purple. This was effective at underscoring different moods at differing points of the story. There are full pages signifying chapter breaks, and these are among the best illustrations in the book.
 
Visual metaphors add an element of playfulness to the book as well. The first time Nick meets Daisy and Jordan, they are depicted as literally floating down to the couches where they’re resting. It seemed to me that the qualities of the writing were emphasized more than anything else. Some things, such as the green light or J.T. Eckleberg’s billboard, seemed oddly not emphasized.
 
Overall, this was a lovely adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” The illustrations were perfectly suited for the times the story takes place in. Some of the text placement, and missing emphasis on important story elements, were confusing or off-putting for me. For high school students, this is a perfectly suitable first introduction.
 
– Kathleen
 
Woodman-Maynard, K. The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. 2021.

Heartstopper (Vol. 1)

Charlie is seated next to Nick one morning in class, and it starts an unusual friendship. See, Charlie is quiet and shy, and also happens to be one of the only gay person in his all-boys school; Nick is a rugby player a grade above him. So it’s a surprise to Charlie when Nick asks him to join the rugby team. What’s even more surprising in that learning from Nick, Charlie starts to get good at it! He also starts falling for the older boy the more they hang out, which is not a good idea. Nick is about as straight as they come. Charlie’s deepening friendship with Nick makes Ben, Charlie’s fling, jealous and possessive. Nick stands up for Charlie, only making his crush worse. As they get closer, Nick starts questioning himself too… is Charlie more than just a friend to him?

This welcome addition to the growing LGBTQ+ representation in graphic novels is very cute. It’s sweet without being saccharine and feels real without being overdramatic. The tone is just right, as is the pacing. We are pulled along by the boys’ heartstrings as they get to know each other, and by extension themselves, more.

Quick, lively linework and a non-traditional panel layout capture high school’s frenetic energy perfectly. The primary color is mint green in thin washes to build up value. Black and white is used as well. The monochromatic palette allows for greater focus on the story and characters. While the character designs seem simple, they are very effective in conveying the character’s emotions.

Overall, this was a highly comforting read. This is only the first volume, and so ends on a cliffhanger, but I can’t help feeling that it’ll all turn out okay. For a light, quick, sweet read that’s chock-full of LGBTQ+ representation, look no further.

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 1). 2020.

City of Secrets

Ever Barnes is an orphan living in the old Switchboard Building in the city called Oskar. He isn’t supposed to be living there, but he has a secret. A very important secret that his father entrusted him to guard. Besides, the employees of the building tolerate his presence so long as he stays out of the way. That all changes when Hannah Morgan spots Ever while visiting the building with her father, the building’s new owner. She wants to be his friend, and help him, for she hates to think of him all alone in the gloom, but Ever keeps pushing her away. Once Ever starts to be followed by shadowy men, can he keep refusing Hannah’s help?

The city of Oskar is an intriguing place, and it’s as much a character as the people residing in it. Its secrets lure you deeper into the mystery. To me, an adult, the story was a little predictable, but the middle grade target audience will be on the edge of their seats the entire time.

Sketchy ink and watercolors drew up a steampunk world. The linework is busy and lively. There is a sepia undertone to all, which makes it seem like the entire thing was printed on yellowed newsprint or toned paper. This fit the steampunk aesthetic perfectly. To me the steampunk elements seemed a bit watered down, probably to better focus on the characters, but more of them would have been welcome.

Middle-grade readers will be thrilled by this steampunk fantasy mystery.

– Kathleen

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. 2020.

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